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The economy’s slowdown, family considerations, work
and other time and monetary constraints are cited for the
falling numbers of participants. There has been no surge
of players taking up golf and sticking with it as was
forecast by some pundits a few years ago. Supposedly
thousands if not millions would be drawn by Tiger Woods’
star power or from the retiring baby-boomer population or
the general growth of family sports activities. These
people have not materialized.

In a good year roughly as many people take up golf as quit
so a best case scenario would be a steady number of
golfers. That is not occurring with estimates of the number
of golfers falling from 30 million plus to 27 million or less.

Money and time have been spent to find a fix.
Commendable programs such as the First Tee, the PGA
of America’s Play Golf America and PGA Free Golf
Lessons plus extensive advertising campaigns from both
the PGA and United States Golf Association can point to
successes. Just not often enough to generate a pattern of
growth rather than decline.

The impact of a shrinking player base is wide spread.
Think about the golf equipment business and how a
shake out - mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies - the
past few years has left four companies with the lion’s
share of the market. Acushnet, TaylorMade Golf, Callaway
Golf and Nike Golf together sell over 50% of the new clubs
and balls leaving what some describe as “crumbs” for the
remaining companies.

Residential real estate, root cause of the recession, had
been the driving force for golf course construction. With
real estate on the rocks hundreds of golf courses are in
trouble; many bankrupt, others closing and many more on
the edge of survival. A golf course operations veteran said
recently he felt many areas in the country had as much as
25 percent too many courses and therefore we will
continue to see courses failing but even with a  quick
recovery the golf industry will never be the same.

Admittedly this is a dark picture but recent research does
though hold out some hope for game growth. The Right
Invitation, a research study conducted by the National Golf
Course Owners Foundation and funded by the Little
Family Foundation makes the point, “appealing to and
appeasing women is a prudent path to economic health
and well being.”
Golf’s biggest problem
Women may be solution
By ED TRAVIS















Women (both current and former golfers) were
interviewed and said courses investing money to make
“women-friendly” changes would receive more play and
more significantly they would be willing to spend more
money to patronize their idea of an “ultimate” golf facility.

Those taking part in the study voiced a familiar laundry list
of complaints. Golf takes too much time, is too expensive
and too difficult were just the beginning.











According to the
Right Invitation, “The golf industry needs
customers and the obvious group to pursue is women.
There is a great economic opportunity for the golf industry
to attract and keep a large underrepresented and
underserved portion of the golfing public.” Women are an
untapped source of additional players and “are
underrepresented in the golfing public, have discretionary
money to spend and often will make the decisions on how
family leisure time is spent.”  

Those in the study were asked to describe their “ultimate
golf facility” and said an 8 to 15 percent premium was
reasonable to pay to get what they want. High on the list of
wants were tees playing to the proper length, multiple and
convenient and clean rest rooms, frequent availability of
drinking water and social golfing opportunities.
For example on the issue of proper (read shorter) sets of
tees, “It is critical to remove the intimidation factor by
providing tees at the proper yardages for the full range of
swing speeds. Properly designed sets of tees reduce
round times and makes the sport much less difficult and
more enjoyable.”

In a very strong statement study authors said proper tees
and therefore course playing yardage for women is “a
make-or-break issue for facilities if they expect women to
return.”

The average woman hits drives perhaps 30% shorter than
the average man so why should they be playing courses
only a few yards less in length? A typical woman who
drives the ball an average of 140-yards should be playing
a course of 4,200 to 4,500 yards while women with
average drives in the 165-yard range will find a course of
4,800 to 5,100 yards within their capability and thus more
enjoyable.

Other issues cited by the women interviewed included
flexible play such as nine-hole or pay-by-the-hole rates
along with low prices for juniors and family plans. One-
half of former players said having enjoyable partners
would bring them back and the survey found, as did the
ski industry years ago, having reasonably priced childcare
is important.

The Right Invitation makes the case for additional
investment in order to attract and retain women
customers and that these women are the source of
growth for the golf industry.

Course operators can read an explanation of how Bandon
Dunes Golf Resort’s Old MacDonald course has
accomplished this on the web at golfwithwomen.com. The
website also has the complete text of the study; a must-
read for golf course managers.